The balaphone is a type of wooden xylophone that one rarely gets to hear, let alone see. Its inclusion in this album is just one of the unusual factors which makes Skyscrapers & Deities a very delightful encounter. Lansiné Kouyate (balaphone) and David Neerman (electric and acoustic vibraphones) have been able to put together an eccentric yet very pleasant album and fill it with innovative and intriguing rhythms using instruments associated with sub Saharan Africa aided by electronic sounds. It is further spiced up by guest musicians including the wonderful kora player Ballake Sissoko. To ensure that the strange mix of distorted electronics and ancient African instruments sets this album apart, the use of political power poetry read to rhythm by the British Caribbean artist Anthony Joseph on the track Haiti guarantees an ‘alternative’ stamp. It’s also surprising to see a Serge Gainsbourg composition in Requiem Pour Un Con, the only non original number.
Those who like the sound of xylophone, vibraphone and marimba will find the sound Kouyoate’s balaphone interesting, it has a resonance and a distorted reverb that makes it a near perfect partner to some of the distorted bass and electronic effects that are added as a syncopating support throughout. It may be alternative but it’s never avant garde, and the ten mostly very short tracks feature a nearly hypnotic percussive undertone that will be much liked by fans of Tony Allen and Mulatu Astatke. The album is well recorded, but not a statement in realism as the mix contains natural and deliberate distortions. It’s another beautifully crafted and slightly unusual musical gem from a small French label. Highly recommended to fans of rhythmic world music.